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I had so many ideas for my next blog post. But a busy summer turned into an even busier fall and winter. Now I’m housebound – along with nearly half the world’s population – with plenty of time to write, and I only have one thing on my mind:

How woefully unprepared the United States has been for this crisis.

For me, that has been far more surprising than the pandemic itself, or even the economic fallout. Clearly, I missed Bill Gate’s TED Talk in 2015 in which he warned the world about our lack of readiness.

Instead, as the virus started to ravage Wuhan – a city I had just traveled to weeks earlier – I simply trusted that my government had spent years fortifying against crises like this and thought back to a time when I used the word “pandemic” nearly every day for nine months of my life.

It was 2007. I was living in Denver and had been hired by a local PR firm to co-lead a statewide communication campaign to help Coloradans become better prepared for emergencies – pandemic flu, in particular.

While our client was the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the campaign was funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which was administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Our budget came from the $7.1 billion Congress had approved in 2005 and 2006 for pandemic preparedness – at President Bush’s request. Every U.S. state and territory, and four urban areas – New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles County – received federal funding to help prepare and test pandemic response plans and address gaps in preparedness.

“What if a communicable illness struck a large part of the population where I live?”

“What if I had to survive for days at my home?”

These were some of the questions we posed in our press release announcing the new “What If? Colorado” campaign, urging Coloradans to consider their level of preparedness for a sudden emergency, such as a severe snowstorm or power outage, as well as more long-term threats like pandemic influenza.

I am very proud of my work on this multi-faceted campaign, which featured partnerships with Wal-Mart and other influential retailers, and a multi-day reality show that aired on morning and evening TV newscasts. We raised awareness and engagement across the state – and more Coloradans reported having an emergency preparedness kit in their home as a result. A decade later, I still picked “What If? Colorado” as a case study to highlight on my then-new website because I’m so passionate about behavior change campaigns generally, and entertainment-education strategies in particular, and want to do more of them.

I don’t know how other states used their HHS funds, or if the money they received was considered sufficient for the task. I know Colorado also ran several mass vaccination exercises in 2007 and 2008 to test their ability to immunize communities quickly during a pandemic – which appeared to be successful.

I also don’t know exactly when officials began rallying the cry for pandemic preparedness. But as my story illustrates, it’s been at least 15 years, if not longer.

So why, in 2020, am I (of all people) suddenly fielding phone calls with nurses and doctors in NYC to get them donated, piecemeal PPE – “personal protective equipment” – from a friend of mine who works in fashion? And it hasn’t even been one month since the World Health Organization declared this a pandemic?

It’s certainly not because widespread illness was beyond the scope of anyone’s imagination. One well-vetted statistic we used over and over again during the “What If?” campaign was that a pandemic could result in an estimated 30,000 deaths and 1.4 million illnesses just in Colorado.

I know I am far from alone in my frustration today. Fortunately, some media are now highlighting the fact that public comments from top officials last year challenge the President’s repeated claims that this pandemic was unexpected.

Of course, this is a novel virus. We are not going to have a vaccine at first or even a full understanding of how this particular coronavirus acts.

But the richest country in the history of the world should certainly have enough medical supplies and equipment. Or at the very least, a top-notch contingency plan.

When I work with organizations on crisis preparedness, I run executives through an exercise to identify potential threats and rank them using two key considerations: threats that are most likely to happen and threats that will be most catastrophic. While many crises are unexpected (which is why an issue-agnostic crisis protocol is so important), this exercise helps us determine how to best focus our preparation efforts.

For whatever reason, our state and federal governments chose to turn a blind eye to one of the most glaring threats of the century.

There’s a lot of finger-pointing and denial going on right now. I hope that the day will come when the right people are held accountable. But today, we need to focus on the right people: the sick, the vulnerable, the poor.

Three weeks ago, while meeting with a client, a teammate and I shared that we first started working together in 2007…on a pandemic preparedness campaign. We brought up this historical side note as the current pandemic was just beginning to reshape our American lives. It was before Zoom was being used for anything other than business. It was before we knew how the stock market would react. Before tens of thousands of businesses had shuttered and before coronavirus deaths in the U.S. had reached 100.

At the time, we shared an awkward chuckle at this seemingly bizarre coincidence.

I’m not laughing anymore.